Sunday, April 17, 2011

Television Situation Comedies We Loved

With TVLand's annual awards show at hand again with special praise for those programs from television's past eras, it got me thinking about some of the situation comedies from the 1970s and 1980s that I particularly enjoyed…those shows with the terrific ensemble casts that never failed to entertain week after week.

Let me be a little more specific here. I'm not talking about the situation comedies where the main characters are the mother, father, and children with the stories revolving around the trials and tribulations of that family unit.

I'm referring to those sitcoms with a diverse group of characters where the circumstances throw them together, usually in a work setting. One of my favorites of this type of sitcom is WKRP In Cincinnati. And some other favorites from that era are Barney Miller, Night Court, The Bob Newhart Show (the original one where he played the psychiatrist with his group of whacky patients…gotta love Mr. Carlin), and the incomparable MASH. And I would be remiss if I didn't include an import from Great Britain…Fawlty Towers. There were only 12 episodes made and each one is perfection.

I know there are others that I particularly enjoyed, but for some reason they aren't coming to mind at the moment.

Fun shows with marvelous performers portraying carefully crafted characters, each of whom could easily carry an individual episode of the series even if they aren't the primary star of the series, characters who each have their own distinct personalities and functions within the group.

Some of these ensemble characters are constantly befuddled and confused such as Mr. Carlson on WKRP. Others are the voice of reason amid periodic moments of chaos such as the Barney Miller character trying to deal with the many oddballs who file through the squad room of New York's 12th Precinct while keeping his detectives in line. And still other characters are totally outrageous such as WKRP's Dr. Johnny Fever. And then you have marvelous characters so out there that you wonder how they are able to function away from their work environment such as about everyone on Night Court from the totally unorthodox judge to the lecherous prosecutor to the do-gooder defense attorney and the bizarre bailiffs.

And a special nod to the character of Jennifer Marlow from WKRP, the beautiful sexy blonde who is also highly intelligent and makes no effort to hide that intelligence behind the 'dumb blonde' persona—a refreshing change from the normal characterization of the sexy blonde woman at that time.

So many brilliant sitcoms from the 1970s and 1980s that were very successful thanks to a great ensemble cast portraying non-family members who functioned together week after week. And a definite acknowledgement of the writers who created all the odd-ball and slightly off-center characters, giving the bones of the characters to the actors who brought them to life on the screen making them memorable for us.

I know there are several great sitcoms from that time frame that I haven't mentioned. What are some of your favorite sitcoms from the 70s and 80s? Let me know which ones you liked and who your favorite character is.


Jannine Gallant said...

How about All In The Family? It doesn't get much better than Edith and Archie Bunker when it comes to portraying quirky characters!

Samantha Gentry said...

Jannine: All In The Family was definitely ground breaking television moving programming from the ten year old viewer being the common denominator into the mature adult arena...things that had never before been portrayed on television (at least not in the USA).

Leigh D'Ansey said...

I loved all those you mentioned. I've watched many reruns of Fawlty Towers and laughed just as much as the first time I saw them. Just thinking about Basil makes me smile. 'Frasier' came later but was another programme I truly enjoyed, with Martin being Niles' and Frasiers' 'voice of reason'. Thanks for bringing those wonderful programmes back to mind.

Samantha Gentry said...

Leigh: Same here for Fawlty Towers. I have all the episodes on dvd and literally laugh out loud at them now same as when I first saw them many years ago.

Frasier had some really good writers--intelligent and funny scripts.

Molly Daniels said...

I also enjoyed Mary Tyler Moore:)

We never missed any episodes of WKRP (loved Dr. Johnny!), Taxi, or MASH, and enjoyed Night Court reruns on Fox.

I also caught every episode of Cheers, and was a faithful viewer of Three's Company. I missed some of the first season of Facts of Life, but when they cut down to just 4 girls, I watched it till the end.

Samantha Gentry said...

Molly: I had forgotten about TAXI...another group of totally out there characters, brilliantly created and perfectly cast.